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Michael Patton (MP): Welcome to Theology Unplugged. We are back talking about sin; talking about imputed sin, inherited sin, and personal sin, and the difficulties that come with that. I’m here with JJ and Sam, and, again, Tim is not with us this time, but he will be back some time. We did not run him off, I do not think. JJ, you had lunch with him, or hung out with him yesterday, and he’s okay?
JJ Seid (JS): Yeah, he’s off wrestling with imputed, inherited, and personal sin.
MP: Yeah, he just heard about this subject and did not want to talk about it.
Sam Storms (SS): It felt too close.
JS: Too personal.
MP: Yeah. Well, last time I ended with a difficulty that I think both of you guys thought we’d closed out on, but I had to extend on it a little bit, because I was talking about Pelagius’ problem with imputed sin: the idea that we’re held guilty, the gavel has been struck for every individual upon conception, because of Adam’s sin, and we are held guilty, directly, for Adam’s sin. And the passages that I referred to were from Ezekiel and from Jeremiah, where it talks about, in the Old Testament, people were acting as if their problems, and their condemnation, and their…the issues that they have in their own life are because of what their fathers did, and they’re getting punished for it. And the phrase becomes so common, we find it both in Jeremiah and in Ezekiel, and did you say you found it somewhere else, JJ?
JS: Yeah, it’s in Lamentations 5:7 as well, but I wonder if…
MP: What’s the phrase?
JS: Well, it’s…
MP: “The fathers…”
JS: It’s referenced in Lamentations 5:7, “Our fathers sinned and are no more, and we bear their iniquities,” but the proverb is in Ezekiel 18:2, right? Is that right? Yeah. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But I’m afraid that maybe we’re even framing it wrong, because my sense is that they’re not complaining about something as much as just stating an experiential reality, you know? Lamentations 5 says, “Remember, oh Lord, what’s befallen us. Look and see our disgrace,” right? So, these are people who are experiencing God’s judgment on them as His nation, and so in a sense, verse 7: “Our fathers sinned and we bear their iniquities,” like, it really is happening, right? When Israel sins, they get sent into exile, and then their children are born in exile, and in that sense, the children are suffering for their parent’s sins.
MP: Well, can we be held guilty…can I be held guilty for the sins of my father?
JS: See, and that’s what’s interesting: I don’t think, I think we’re asking a question that those passages aren’t trying to answer. What they’re saying is, “This is what it’s like to live in a theonomy, and this is the result of being sent into exile and punished, but someday when I make a new covenant, and I reconstitute the people of God as no longer being geographical and ethnic, then it’s not going to function like that anymore; you’re each going to be disciplined for your own sin.”
SS: But, Michael, let me answer a question.
JS: Do you buy that, Sam?
SS: Yeah, I think you got a good point, but back to Michael’s question, the answer is: no, you’re not guilty or accountable before God. God’s not going to stand you in front of the great white throne of judgment and say, “Now, Michael, in 1974 when your dad was in his early 20s, or whatever, here’s something that he did, and I’m going to punish you because of it.” Of course not, that’s not what the Bible teaches. But your relationship to your father is not the same as the relationship of all mankind to Adam, because your dad was not the representative head of you or of anyone; and Adam, however, was in fact the covenant representative head of the totality of the human race. So, there’s a uniqueness to that arrangement that you don’t find elsewhere in Scripture.
JS: See, and again, that’s so important because I think these Old Testament passages are being tortured to say things they don’t say. Lamentations 5:7, “Our fathers sinned and are no more, and we bear their iniquities.” The very next sentence, “Namely, slaves rule over us. There is none to deliver us from their hand.” What he means, “We bear their iniquities; we suffer the consequences of their sin.”
SS: Sure, well yeah, I mean, let’s say you’ve got a man who’s an alcoholic, or he’s addicted to gambling, or whatever, and he drives his family into bankruptcy, and he sets in motion a pattern of life from which it might take several generations to emerge. I mean, they encourage debt, they’ve seen his patterns of behavior, there’s animosity that is…exists between family members and between generations. So, can we suffer the consequences of the sins of our ancestors? The answer is: absolutely yes!
MP: Just not the condemnation?
SS: Right! So, what about a crack baby? What about a little baby that’s conceived in the womb of a woman who’s been smoking crack her whole life, and he’s born addicted? And that happens all the time. He’s suffering consequences for her sin, but God isn’t angry at the baby because he’s born addicted.
MP: Well, is that the passage in the Old Testament, I think it’s in Exodus, where it says that “He shall visit the sins upon generation after generation”? What passage is that? I didn’t even have that marked.
SS: It’s in Exodus chapter 20; it’s part of the Ten Commandments, but since you brought it up, (I’m glad you did because people really abuse and misunderstand this), let’s listen to this, if I can find it here…
MP: Exodus chapter 20, to fill the silence.
SS: Yeah, here it is; it’s the very opening verses. He says, “You shall not bow down to them [talking about false gods], or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” So, the only reason why He “visits the iniquity on the third and the fourth generations” is because they “hate Me.” So, it’s personal accountability here. It’s not saying, “But, well, my great-great-grandfather hated God, and therefore God’s punishing me for it.” No, He’s only punishing me for it if I also hate God.
MP: Yeah, and so the idea is the same type of thing to where if you were born into a Christian family, you are…you have a better chance of becoming a Christian than you do if you’re born in the Middle East into a Muslim family, you have a better chance of not being a Christian, and so, “those that hate Me,” there is the consequences in the sense of the difficulties that arise, right?
SS: Yes. Let’s come back to Pelagius because I fear that, this may sound like a shocking statement, but a vast majority of our society, and even many within the Christian church, even though they don’t know it, are Pelagian. Pelagius was asked, “How do you account for the fact that we commit acts of sin?” And he rejected Augustine’s view of both imputed and inherent sin, and he said, “Well the reason why we sin is because people before us have set a bad example, and we follow it.”
So, if you asked him, “What’s the relationship between Adam’s sin and that of his posterity?”
And Pelagius would say, “Adam set a bad example, and we have chosen to imitate it.”
Now, here’s a problem, and I raised this same point in the earlier podcast that we did, or broadcast: that doesn’t account for the universality of sin; why is it everywhere present, in every human being? Explain to me, Pelagius, why every single human being that preceded us, including Adam, always set a bad example, and why does every human being who follows them follow the bad example? If there’s nothing in us, in us inherently, intrinsically, (kind of as JJ said before, “our spiritual DNA”: we’re conceived in sin, we are at odds with God, we are born “going forth from the womb speaking lies”); if there’s nothing beneath the surface of external relationships, why is it that everybody sets a bad example, and why is it everybody follows it?
MP: Yeah, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Even if there wasn’t some inner inclination with Pelagius, there’s this outer inclination that does push us, no matter what, and it’s unfair to be born in a society where everybody is a bad example. To have true neutrality you would have to have neutral examples.
SS: Well, or everybody would have to be his own Adam, standing his own probation in his own private Garden of Eden.
MP: Without any snake, or without anything that is pushing him in one direction or another.
JJ: Well, and of course, as with every persuasive lie, there’s a sprinkling of truth. There is an environment in which we sin that does tempt us to sin further and exacerbates our sin. You know, it’s sort of like kids playing with matches on the carpet in the living room, and their parents walk in, and instead of saying, “Don’t do that, you could burn the house down,” they say, “Oh, let me go get some gasoline out of the garage and help.”
So, you know, we were born into sin, we like to sin, we’re inclined to sin, and then we had parents, and neighbors, and we grew up in an environment where we were also taught how to sin even better, and more frequently, and with greater creativity. These are the old categories of the world, the flesh, and the devil, right? I’ve got my own problems, you know, my flesh, I’ve got this enemy who’s lying in wait to entice me, and then I also have this environment that I’m born into that is also tempting me and exacerbating the problem.
MP: Let me try to represent our listeners a little bit and maybe the problems that come up, especially from last broadcast that we talked about being born, or conceived, condemned. And, I think probably a lot of them are thinking, “Are you saying that if a baby dies in its mother’s womb, or dies shortly after birth, that that baby is conceived, and born, and condemned, and therefore has no chance of redemption?” I mean, I know that this is a big topic to…
SS: No, I’d say the answer to that is: no.
MP: Let’s just try to answer that quickly, though. I mean, why is it then…
JS: Well, Augustine’s opponents used to try to entrap him with that, right, and show why his views are so awful because it was like, he had to bite the bullet and say, “Well, I think, then, they probably are lost, but…”
MP: And some people do bite the bullet and say that people are lost.
SS: All right, here’s a shameless personal plug: I wrote a chapter on this in my first volume on Tough Topics. Or maybe it’s the second one? I can’t even remember now. Maybe people just need to get both volumes to find out what…
MP: There you go.
JS: Just to be safe.
SS: Yeah, just to be safe.
MP: Tough Topics, by Sam Storms.
SS: And I asked the question: are those who die in infancy saved? And I argue that they are, but not because they’re innocent; that’s important to point out. I do believe that those who die before they have been able to cognitively understand and make a morally responsible, volitional decision, if they die prior to that, that they are, in fact, among the elect, and taken by God into His presence in heaven. I don’t believe that’s because they’re innocent, I believe it’s because God, in His mercy, has chosen to do that; and I give numerous reasons, and I interact with the Biblical text on that subject. So…
MP: And so they still have to have the imputation of Christ’s righteousness?
SS: Right, they have to have the blood of Christ that covers them. Exactly.
MP: Hmm. Okay, let me ask…
JS: You got to at least mention 2 Samuel 12:23, right? That’s always encouraging, or it’s a hint, it’s a hint of something encouraging.
SS: Yeah; when the firstborn of David and Bathsheba dies soon after birth, you know, David wouldn’t eat, and he wouldn’t bathe, and he wouldn’t be consoled until such time, as long as the baby was alive, because he said, “Who knows? Maybe the Lord will have mercy and spare him.” Well, when the baby finally dies, it says that David got up, and he cleaned himself, and he ate; and they said, “Well, what’s going on?” He said, “Well,” he said, “while the baby was still alive, I had hopes that it could live, but now that it’s dead I can’t do anything about it. He can’t come back to me, but I will go to him.” And the suggestion is that David seems to have drawn some measure of comfort from that, the confident hope that he’s going to be reunited with his child. Now, the problem, obviously, is: okay, that’s one case; can you extrapolate that and apply it universally to all instances of infant death?
MP: Yeah, because the Bible doesn’t really speak specifically toward this. We take passages like that, which could mean, “I will go to him in his grave; he will not come back to me.”
SS: Nah, I have a problem with that. Because, here, let me…
MP: Because he gained encouragement.
SS: Well, yeah, yeah. He was really encouraged, and he seems to have regained his joy from the knowledge that he was going to be reunited with him. But for David to say, “Look, I’m going to die and be laid in the ground just like my son,” how’s that a source of encouragement and joy? That doesn’t make…that’s so blatantly obvious; well, of course you’re going to die and be put in the grave! That doesn’t seem to make much sense.
MP: Well, as we’re talking about imputed sin and the difficulties of imputed sin, I know that when you’re looking at it from an apologetic standpoint, meaning defending the faith and looking at people from the outside, and they look at this and they reduce Christianity to the absurd by bringing up things like this, and an eternal hell, and God in the Old Testament, and many, many things; but this is one of them…you’re going to have to…you want me to adopt this idea that we are born sinners, that we have a sinful condemnation from the beginning? And the problem with that obviously has to do with many things beside, you know, the option is not between that and atheism; like we can choose what we want God to be like. There will be difficult doctrines that we all accept because God said it’s true, and we have to trust, like Sam said before, that, in the last broadcast, we have to trust that God is merciful, and that He is more merciful than us, and that He knows what He’s doing, and that He is righteous, and the condemnation of whoever gets condemned will be a righteous condemnation. It will not be something that we are above Him, and as we attempt to judge God…He will always prevail when He is judged. And we often try to judge Him, and put Him on the stand and say, “Give account for Yourself.”
JS: C.S. Lewis’ famous phrase, right? “We put God in the dock,” and then we have to ask ourselves, “What am I doing?” You know, we’re following God around as He draws straight lines, and we’re calling Him to account with a crooked ruler. So, there’s something presuppositional here. We have to ask: is our ability to assess the Almighty, isn’t it possible that it itself is inherently flawed?
SS: You know, let me come back…you mentioned the apologetic dimension to this, and I’ve spoken with professing atheists and unbelievers who object to the idea that we’re talking about here, the notion of imputed and inherent sin. And so I push back and I say, “All right, let’s go with your explanation for why sin is universal. Let’s just deal with the empirical reality that all mankind are sinful, all mankind commit heinous, selfish, blasphemous acts of immorality and idolatry. If you’re not willing to accept the Biblical explanation for why sin is universal, please give me yours.”
And the point, again, that I mentioned, in the previous broadcast, was when you have a universal effect, you need a sufficient cause to account for it. It’s not just like sin erupts spontaneously in the hearts of billions of humans who’ve lived on this earth. There has to be some sort of a cause, some explanatory reality that accounts for the universality and the pervasive nature of personal sin. So, what is yours? If you refuse to accept the Biblical explanation, give me yours.
JS: I really like that, Sam, because it seems to be very savvy in this sort of late-modern era. Some people call it post-modernity, but you know, as late-moderns, where irony and cynicism reign, and sort of…we’re good at deflating self-righteous people, our culture sort of gets that, the sort of tendency for human hypocrisy and puffery. So, what a wonderful way to engage them where they’re at and say, “Come on, you’ve been spending all of your time deflating people who are self-righteous narrators, who pretended to sort of have insight into everything and have all the answers. So, you can agree with me that we’re flawed, but how did we get this way?”
MP: Well, and even when you get to the answer and you say, “Because I want to do what I want. I want to be happy; I want to…sin makes me happy.” I mean, even Plato recognized back many, many years ago, the philosopher, and said, “You know what? To be happy means to do good. That’s the way to be happy, and people are looking for satisfaction in life. And they know that if they do good, that’s the most satisfying way to live life.” And, so, even unbelievers recognize that it’s better to give than to receive, it’s better to complement rather than to tear down, to build rather than destroy; and people find that living a life of sin is totally destructive. Why do we still do it, then, even though we know what’s good is more fulfilling, and will help us, not only to live longer, but just be happier?
SS: Yeah, and if this was an apologetics broadcast, you know, you just hit on another point: not only must the unbelieving world account for the universality of sin, but it must also account for the universality of a sense of virtue. Why is it that there is commonly held, among all people, certain moral principles as being obligatory on us all? Where did that come from?
Now, I want to shift gears, Michael. Right here, I know it’s kind of a jolt. Let’s talk about personal sin.
MP: Well, wait a minute. Can we not yet?
SS: I want to know…I want to answer the question: are all sins equal in the sight of God?
MP: Okay, well let’s save that.
JS: I’ve got to slip in one great quote from G.K. Chesterton first. He was always famous for saying, “Original sin is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved,” which I always thought was funny. So, it’s the least popular doctrine, and the irony is, as Sam is pointing out, it’s in a sense the easiest one to get them to agree to from their own empirical observations of living in a world full of fallen people.
MP: Well Sam, we do need to get to that for sure with personal sin, and “Are all sins equal?”. But listen to this, I want to give you guys an explanation, and this comes from…
SS: I think it’s sinful that you’re not taking my hint at what direction we should go. And I think it’s a greater sin than my sin of insisting that we do it.
MP: It is, but this seems more satisfying right now.
SS: All right, you’re the boss. Go for it.
MP: Let’s go with Saint Thomas Aquinas and his explanation, and it’s a…believe me, what I’m doing is I’m doing a fringe thing; you know Saint Thomas Aquinas, he answers fringe questions. I mean, he’s the angelic doctor; he’s asking questions that are so far out there so many times that…
SS: “The dumb ox”; he was called “the dumb ox.” He was brilliant, but he was rather heavy and lumbering in his walk, and so some people nicknamed him.
MP: Well, listen to this. One of the times he was asked the question about, or he asked the question in his diatribe: “Why is it that God did not save the angels?” and he said this, he said: “Well, in order to save the angels, that would be impossible. The reason why it’d be impossible is because ‘angels’ is not a species. Angels do not procreate, and so therefore they are not connected to one another. In order to save the angels, since they were created individually, not procreated, and are not a species, but are a species in and of themselves, He would have to become each individual angel, and die for that angel. Therefore, there was no way for Christ to redeem the species called ‘angels’.”
Now, connected to this is his understanding of why it is that He was able to save mankind. Mankind, and this is the idea of: maybe imputation is an issue of grace rather than an issue of just saying God’s being vindictive and condemning people; but because we are linked by imputation, because we are linked spiritually, (because we are a race not only based upon biology and procreation, but because we are linked spiritually, and we have been imputed and connected with the federal head, Adam, that Jesus could come and die for the entirety of the human race, or die for the Elect, whichever one you take there)—but he basically says that that’s the reason why it was, we were linked with Adam, is so that we could be linked with Christ. What do you guys think of that?
SS: I just want to know how many of these unsaved angels can dance on the head of a pin. That’s the only thing that matters, isn’t it?
JS: I think it’s a brilliant bit of speculative philosophy, very in keeping with his personality and inclination, but it’s, to talk again about imputation, it’s what we’ve already been saying. We can get that out of Romans 5, you know, we don’t need to talk about angels. It’s like, yeah, the very thing that causes the plague to spread may also be the very way in which the antibodies can be isolated to create the cure. Yeah, it’s interesting.
SS: So, you’re suggesting then, Michael, obviously, because I know our listeners are probably wondering—so you’re saying Satan was not the representative federal head of the angels?
MP: That’s right.
SS: He did not stand in their place, and his sin was not imputed, or reckoned, or passed on to them, because they do not propagate or procreate; and we do know that Satan was the first one to fall, and he then enticed who knows how many angels to follow him in his rebellion, but they were all individuals.
MP: Maybe that was more of a Pelagian view of angels.
SS: Yeah, those were all individual acts of transgression and idolatry; they were not, somehow, connected by covenant to Satan.
MP: That’s right. So, we are connected by covenant to Adam so that we can be connected by covenant to Christ; which, in my mind, even though it’s very speculative from the standpoint of angels and the comparison is, like JJ said, from the standpoint of Romans chapter 5, it makes sense. Maybe the imputation of Adam’s sin, though necessary being the federal head, is a point of redemption, the ability for us to be redeemed because we are fallen with Adam. If we fell individually, given the chance, we would all fall. If everybody had their own chance and were born neutral, we would all fall, but Christ could not redeem us all. But since we are connected to that federal head, Christ could redeem us.
SS: Well, it is fascinating–Romans 5 clearly says that the destiny of the human race hangs suspended on the actions of two individuals: the first Adam and the last Adam.
JS: You could almost presumptuously say, “As one trespass led to the condemnation for all men, because that happened so one one act of righteousness can lead to justification for all men.”
SS: But we will answer the question: are all sins equal in the sight of God? Will we not?
MP: We will.
DISCLAIMER: All quotations are transcribed as spoken by the participants. They have not been checked for accuracy or citation.